It’s been a strange few months for Manchester City, a period that does not quite know whether it’s been successful, disappointing or somewhere in-between.
Pep Guardiola’s side have seen their 14 point lead at the top of the Premier League table evaporate (although due to Liverpool’s two games in-hand that advantage was always slightly misleading), and on Saturday suffered FA Cup semi-final defeat for the third consecutive season.
On the flip side, City have reached the Champions League semi-finals for a second year in a row, and over the past few months have played some breathtaking football. Perhaps inconsistent is the word that best describes City’s recent outings.
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However, there is always someone worse off. In this instance, that someone is Manchester United.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past eight months, you’ll know that City’s neighbors are in a state of complete shambles. Under Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer the team was limp and lifeless, the legendary player-turned-manager resembling an old race horse destined for the knackers in his final weeks in charge.
Ralf Rangnick arrived as interim manager with the promise of intense, high-octane pressing football. That has not arrived, but in fairness that’s not surprising given the resources at the German’s disposal.
A 4-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool on Tuesday – which did City no favors in the title race – was United’s ninth of the season, and means missing out on Champions League football next season is a very real possibility. Blame can be apportioned to the players and coach, but it is clear that United’s demise over the past decade started at the top.
Current Ajax coach Erik ten Hag looks set to arrive in the summer as United’s savior, but he will inherit a patchwork squad of players signed by various different coaches, with no defined style, system or team spirit.
It’s a situation not too dissimilar to what Guardiola faced when he arrived at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, but crucially, everything was put in place for him to transform City and achieve great success.
Guardiola knew that he would work closely with director of football Txiki Begiristain – a friend he has known for many years – to identify the kind of players he would need to execute his complex and demanding brand of football.
Pep, Txiki and City’s scouting team identify targets who not only possess the technical abilities that Guardiola demands, but who will also fit in with the dressing room and are willing to put the collective over the individual. Over at Old Trafford, the approach appears to be to sign the best players available and worry about the rest later.
The City Football Academy was streamlined in such a way that when Pep arrived, teams from all age categories were ready to adopt the same style of play, easing the transition of youngsters from the academy into the first-team set-up.
At United youngsters do get their chance – perhaps even more so than at City – but they are being thrown in to a difficult first-team dressing room and can potentially be overplayed as it appears in Marcus Rashford’s case due to a lack of other options.
Under Rangnick United have lined up in anything up to five different formations, with few sure-starters and no defined style of play. It’s no wonder they’re in the mess they’re in, and they could do better than look to City for inspiration.
On Wednesday the news broke that United’s chief scout Jim Lawlor and head of global scouting Marcel Bout have left the club after years of poor recruitment. Bringing in replacements who share a similar vision to Ten Hag would be the kind of joined-up thinking one would expect from City, so perhaps United have finally learned a thing or two from the Blues.
What the whole fiasco shows is that City fans should be extremely grateful that competent football minds are running the show at the Etihad. Unfortunately, after ten glorious years, it looks like United might be moving in a similar direction.